Dr. T.J. Franey, Kayleen McCabe and Hanceville High School Principal Jimmy Collins
HANCEVILLE - Kayleen McCabe is not what most folks would consider your average woman. Yes, she wears heels and earrings, and carries a purse; but the heels are attached to work boots, the earrings are tiny wrenches and her purse is a tool box. And when she talks about careers in skilled trades, guys and gals alike pay attention.
McCabe is a licensed general contractor; after winning the DIY Network’s ironically-titled “Stud Finder” contest, she became the host of the network’s series “Rescue Renovation.” At the invitation of the Alabama State Board of Education and the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE), McCabe spent Thursday speaking to students at Hanceville, West Point and Vinemont High Schools about the importance of skilled trades, the artistry of good craftsmanship and the current potential for people in trade vocations. The presentations were arranged locally by CCBOE Career Tech Director Jeff Curtis and Special Projects Coordinator Dr. T.J. Franey.
Franey said, “We are so grateful to Kayleen for giving her time to come and speak to our students. We’re excited about all the opportunities in career tech for all of our students throughout Cullman County.”
The Tribune caught up with McCabe at her first stop in Hanceville, and talked with her about what brings her to Alabama.
“I come to Birmingham to support a group called Power Up, a mother-daughter thing encouraging daughters and mothers to think about the trades as a career,” said McCabe. “When I’m out here, I volunteer my time to travel to as many high schools as I can to also say the same message: that there are multiple pathways to success. College is one, construction is one, doing the trades is another one. I’m a contractor; I’m pretty successful, and I swing a hammer.”
McCabe tried the college route for a short time, but found that the classroom and curriculum were not for her. Then she got the chance to try her hand at construction and automotive welding, and she was hooked.
“I was really excited,” she explained. “I could be doing this as a job? Yes! Yes, please! I want to do this. That was in my early 20s, and I’ve been able to focus on it almost full-time, so it’s been great.”
Today McCabe works as a general contractor, supervising skilled crafters from up to 27 different trade specialties on any given project. On her show “Rescue Renovation,” according to the DIY Network web page, she “saves project-challenged homeowners who are in over their heads with their renovations.”
In her spare time, she enjoys working on cars (She said, “I’m a gearhead, too!”) and making pastries.
Following are a few excerpts from McCabe’s presentation to the students of Hanceville High School and Middle School:
“I was told over and over again that I had to go to college, that the only way for me to be successful was through a college degree. So, I went to college for a semester. I was taking out loans and working two jobs, and taking on debt to go to school. And I realized that in four years, I’m going to be guaranteed a piece of paper and $75,000 of debt. Is that piece of paper going to guarantee me a job? Will it give me the opportunity to be an adult? I wanted my own house, to be able to take care of myself and a family. I realized that no, for me, it wasn’t going to; so I dropped out. To this day, I don’t have a college degree. I’ve done alright for myself, and the reason is that I went into construction, and fell in love with the trades. And that’s not typical; even to this day there aren’t a lot of female contractors, which is kind of a bummer, because I love what I do so much. I love the fact that I get to collect power tools and shoes!
“There’s nothing better than being in a neighborhood in the morning at 7 a.m., and everybody’s still sound asleep; and I pull out my tile saw, which is an incredibly loud tool, and I get to turn that thing on and wake up the whole neighborhood! And then I spend the entire day making art that’s set in stone.
“The reason that I’m successful is that I knew that, no matter what I was going to do to be successful, even if I had a degree, it takes hard work. A few years ago, people started to ask themselves, ‘What makes people successful? What makes people leaders in their industry? Is it their schooling or their background, is it the socioeconomic status they came from?’ And they realized, no. The one consistency that makes people successful is how many hours they devote toward their craft. I wanted to be successful, so I realized that I needed to focus my time into my craft.
“I found myself in this career that, instead of dreading to wake up every morning and go to work, I was bouncing out of bed, working 18 hours, and being sad to leave. If I had a job where I had to sit in an air-conditioned office, I would go crazy. I don’t sit well. I am meant to be outside.
(In high school) “I was told, ‘Hey, you’re a girl. You shouldn’t consider those (trade) programs. Hey, Kayleen, you have pretty good grades; you shouldn’t consider one of those trade programs, because you’re on a different path.’ I really wish that I had followed my intuition and my passion (at that time).”
To girls considering traditionally male careers
“It’s so easy to do what you love. That’s what it is. I love what I do so much, that even when people look at me like I’m a female, I’m like ‘Yeah, I don’t care!’ I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else. I’ve done the office jobs; I can’t. This is it for me. So really, it’s being able to follow that passion, and just don’t listen to the haters. They’re other people’s opinions; don’t waste your time.”
Advice to all young people
McCabe offered four simple pieces of advice to students preparing to enter the workforce:
“Show up on time.”
“Know that you hold the pen to your future paycheck.”
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